(Update: Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday formally ruled himself out of the race to succeed Liz Truss as Conservative leader and prime minister, citing the need for national and party unity. His announcement leaves former Chancellor Rishi Sunak as the favorite.)
(CNSNews.com) – Boris Johnson was reported to be flying back to the U.K. amid a push by supporters on Thursday night for his return to No. 10 Downing Street, after Prime Minister Liz Truss announced an end to the shortest premiership in British history.
Lawmakers in the deeply-divided Conservative Party will select its new leader in an abbreviated process that should see Britain’s new prime minister named within a week.
Truss’ leadership imploded amid plummeting poll ratings after she was forced to back down on economic policies, including widely-criticized unfunded tax cuts.
The opposition Labour Party is demanding fresh elections.
“I hope you enjoyed your holiday boss. Time to come back,” tweeted Conservative lawmaker James Duddridge in a message directed to Johnson, who was vacationing in the Caribbean. The hashtag #BringBackBoris is trending on Twitter.
Citing Johnson allies in the party, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday night that the former prime minister was privately urging Conservative lawmakers to back him, “with a pledge that only he can win the Tories the next election,” the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday night, citing Johnson allies in the party.
Some political analysts predict that a British ruling party forced to make such dramatic reversals on its economic program will almost certainly lose the next general election. If that bears out, it would mean that whoever succeeds Truss will have a little over two years in office at the most – if he or she survives that long.
Truss was chosen to succeed Johnson in a lengthy process over the summer in which around 170,000 Conservative Party members chose between two candidates shortlisted by the party’s lawmakers in the House of Commons.
This time, a committee that oversees these matters has given contenders until Monday afternoon to secure the support of at least 100 of the 356 Conservative lawmakers. Assuming two pass the threshold, party members will have an online vote, with the result announced next Friday. If only one candidate gets more than 100 nominations, he or she will become prime minister.
Apart from Johnson, candidates in the running so far include former Chancellor (finance minister) Rishi Sunak, who lost the party leadership contest earlier this year to Truss; and leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt, who was eliminated during the summer leadership race.
According to the Telegraph, as of Thursday night Sunak had secured the declared support of 29 Conservative MPs, while Johnson had 24 and Mordaunt 11. (Updated numbers at 10 PM Friday UK time, according to the BBC's tally: Sunak: 83, Johnson: 42, Mordaunt 21.)
Sunak supporters are drawing attention to the fact that he had warned early on against the tax cut proposals that Truss had pursued – and then had to abandon.
A return by Johnson to the helm would be unusual but not unprecedented. Over the last century prime ministers Harold Wilson, Winston Churchill, and Stanley Baldwin all did so, but after gaps of between four and six years.
Were Johnson to be declared the winner next Friday, he would have been out of office for just 52 days.
‘Mission largely accomplished – for now’
Johnson resigned amid a flood of ministerial resignations amid several scandals, including one involving his attendance at parties at Downing Street that violated pandemic lockdown rules in place at the time.
Last July he ended his final prime ministerial question time in parliament with the words, “Mission largely accomplished – for now” (before signing off with a quote from Terminator 2: Judgment Day: “Hasta la vista, baby.”)
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer reacted to Truss’ resignation by calling for an election now.
“Britain deserves better than this revolving door of Tory chaos,” he said. “The British people are paying the price for 12 years of failure.”
“The British public deserve a proper say on the country’s future,” Starmer said. “They must have the chance to compare the Tories’ chaos with Labour’s plans to sort out their mess, grow the economy for working people and rebuild the country for a fairer, greener future.”
A snap poll by YouGov found considerable support – 63 points to 23 – for the idea that the person chosen to lead the Conservative Party should call an early general election.
YouGov found 79 percent of respondents thought Truss was right to resign, with just seven percent taking the contrary view.
And in a harsh judgment of the departing leader, 64 percent of respondents described her as a “terrible” prime minister, followed by 18 percent describing her as “poor,” and seven percent as “average.”
In her 90-second resignation announcement outside No. 10, Truss said she recognized that she was unable to “deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party” and had therefore notified King Charles that she was resigning.
Truss said the agreed-upon quick leadership election “will ensure we remain on a path to deliver our fiscal plans and maintain our country’s economic stability and national security.”
Jeremy Hunt, the new finance minister, is scheduled to deliver a new budget on October 31 as the government seeks to steady the ship. Hunt has ruled himself out of the contest to succeed Truss.
Bronwen Maddox, director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) said that “the U.K.’s standing in the world has been severely battered by this episode and by the revolving door of prime ministers,”
“For the U.K. to regain respect – and an image of reliability – it needs to move fast and find someone capable of putting policies into action,” she said.
At the same time, Maddox argued that Truss’ departure also marked a victory for some British institutions – specifically parliament and the independent fiscal watchdog known as the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Truss’ government had turned down an offer by the Office for Budget Responsibility to prepare a draft forecast in time for a mini-budget delivered in late September
Maddox predicted that “it will be a long time before a government tries to dispense with the comments of the independent watchdog of national finances.”